Today I have a wonderful young woman and her foundation to tell you about, but first, I must make an apology for my faux pas in last week’s Good People post. My Ghanaian friend Senam, who I call ‘little brother’, gently pointed out the error of my ways, and I must admit he is quite right.
“I loved your recent article about the Nigerian woman, Olajumoke Olufunmilola Adenowo on Good People Doing Good Things…..
Like you wrote, the US doesn’t have a monopoly on good people so it was cool of you to shine the light on the works of this lady….
I have a little concern tho, and forgive me if this is a bit presumptuous…..
You started with “Can’t pronounce it? Neither can I”, and while I’m sure you really can’t pronounce it correctly, saying that feeds into the stereotype that African names generally are difficult to pronounce. When people say that, it usually means, to us, that they can’t be bothered to learn our names, which is actually funny when you consider how diverse the United States. I mean, nobody has any problem pronouncing schwarzenegger for example
Names are important to us here. Our names have meanings. Olajumoke for example means Cherished Wealth, and making the effort to pronounce is a sign of respect and appreciation….
Again though, it was really great of you to tell her story….. “
Senam is correct, and I was thoughtless, so for that I apologize, and promise to be more careful in the future. Names ARE important and we need to respect them. And now, please allow me to shine a light on yet another good person …
“These children are my family, I love them, will fight for them and will do all I can to help them succeed.” – Maria Conceição
Twelve years ago, Maria Conceição, then 27 years of age, was a flight attendant for Emirates Airlines when she flew her first flight into Bangladesh. Born in Vila Franca de Xira, Portugal, Maria became a flight attendant in 2003, and had flown mostly to luxury spots. But then in 2005, she was scheduled to work a flight to Dhaka, Bangladesh, which included a 24-hour layover. It was that layover that would change her life, and the lives of over a thousand children.
With 24 hours to explore, Maria set out to do some sightseeing, and she kept noticing the large number of homeless and starving in every street, many of them children. Rather than touring museums and visiting upscale shops, Maria spent her free time touring slums, an orphanage and a hospital in Dhaka. What she saw there horrified her.
In the hospital, conditions were deplorable and Maria met a young girl who had just given birth to twins, was very sick and basically left to die. Near her hotel she met up with another young woman, this one living on the streets, and Maria was so moved that she took her food and other essentials, hoping that she could make some small difference in the homeless woman’s life. But when she returned home, she could not erase the images, and she realized she could not simply turn her back on those people.
Back home, she asked for every flight to Bangladesh, and returned multiple times, each time taking food and other items. Still, Maria was not satisfied and the following month, May 2005, Maria sold all her possessions save for a few clothes, cashed out her savings, and made her plans to head back to Bangladesh. Many of her friends helped by selling some of their own possessions and donating the proceeds to Maria’s cause.
Maria returned to Dhaka and set about raising both awareness and cash to help the people living in abject poverty in the slums. At first it was slow going, both because she was an unknown, and also because people’s pride kept them from accepting charity. But Maria persisted, and in 2006, along with three other people, established the Maria Cristina Foundation (MCF), named after her adoptive mother.
She received help from colleagues, friends and family, as well as her employer, Emirates Airlines. And she established a school that began with 39 students from the Korail slum. Although at first it was slow going, Maria managed to accomplish a lot in that first year. She opened a home sewing school so women could learn to work, a daycare center, a driving school for rickshaw drivers. And small things, like providing containers to families to capture rainwater, a first aid and dental center were established, trash cans distributed.
By the end of 2006, the school had expanded to some 150 students and, though still struggling for donations, the foundation was on the road to success. In 2007, Bangladesh saw floods and a major cyclone that caused inflation, thus the donations did not go as far, but nonetheless, the foundation began a vaccination program for the children. The foundation was now taking care of about 600 children, thanks to generous contributions from Maria’s employer, Emirates Airlines, as well as others.
2008 brought about many difficulties: natural disasters, the worldwide financial crisis, and naturally donations fell off. So, Maria did something extraordinary to draw attention to the needs of the foundation and its community — she set out to become a sportswoman of note, and in that she clearly succeeded, becoming the first Portuguese woman to climb Mount Everest; holding three records as a marathon runner; and establishing six Guinness World Records. Most recently, she attempted to swim the English Channel but was forced to abandon her bid due to overpowering tidal currents.
Her accomplishments did put the foundation in the limelight, and they now receive donations, job assistance and other forms of help from a number of large corporations.
Ultimately, the school that Maria started in 2005 was overwhelmed, and the foundation made arrangements for 450 of the 600 students to attend an excellent school in Bangladesh and the foundation pays their tuition. A handful have been offered scholarships to an excellent GEMS school in Dubai, UAE. By 2013, there were only 150 students remaining at the Gawair when the school was forced to close due to lack of funding.
Maria and MCF have done so much to help the poor of Dhaka, Bangladesh, that I cannot even begin to cover them all. They have adult programs, family programs, and of course the highest priority is always the education of the children, for it is that that will provide them with opportunities to rise well above their beginnings. There are numerous articles and interviews online with Maria, but the best I found was in Arabian Business. And there is a must-see Ted Talk. It is rather long … 19:18 minutes, but worth every minute, if you can spare the time, to listen to Maria tell her story in her own words.
We have come across a lot of wonderful people since I began this feature back in February, haven’t we? Today’s good person is no exception, for she is quite literally living her life to do good for others, and I give her a big thumbs-up!